Awareness Grows – “Weightless” Virtual World has a Mass

In the early history of particle physics, the neutrino was proposed by Wolfgang Pauli in 1930. At the time, nobody thought this particle had a mass – it was just “spin.” Imagine a dancer spinning on the ice, then take away the dancer – that’s what the neutrino was. However, with time it was discovered that neutrinos had mass – less than classical particles, but still very significant in the cosmic scale of things.

During the early history of the web, the rise of “virtualization” made it seem weightless. Boosters of web services touted its “weightless” aspect. A web service converted a physical act like going to the motor vehicle’s department for your driver’s license into a form on your computer screen. The rise of everything on the web was seen as “green.”

While this attitude still persists, we are seeing more evidence that designers and the public increasingly understand that the web has a carbon footprint. After all, we’ve virtualized chunks of the economy, yet our energy use continues to rise. Understanding the carbon footprint of virtualization is essential for any realistic sustainable future.

Fortunately, some good articles are books are finally coming out. Case in point: A new study by agency Footsprint, party of web agency Labelium, detailing the hidden cost of web advertising:

While the Footsprint value for the carbon footprint of “clicks” just matches one large city, this is misleading. It isn’t measuring the embodied energy of the Internet’s infrastructure, much less the electricity used by desktops and mobiles. The true value is much higher than this.

While the goals of Footsprint might be to attract clients, any reduction in energy use is welcome. More so, incorporating sustainability into agency design is an even bigger win. Labelium is one of the first companies to include sustainability as part of their virtual design process, first suggested a decade ago in this blog. Kudos!

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